APA reflects on Journey from the Fall -- this time from the perspective of its premiere in Orange County, where the Vietnamese American community helped give the film the weekend's biggest per-screen average at the North American box office.
Acclaimed soprano and distinguished teacher Shigemi Matsumoto talks about the unanticipated road to success.
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Between our week in San Francisco and last year's LA International Film Festival, APA's seen about half of SFIAAFF's feature films in the narrative competition. Our thoughts...
dir: Eric Byler
Coming off Charlotte Sometimes and Americanese, Byler presents Tre, a darker, slightly bleak take on the complex relationships of adults -- crafted with the building blocks of sex, loneliness, unmet expectations, cowardice, and inconvenient attraction. Tre is also the name of the film's lead character, played by Daniel Cariaga, a crass, inconsiderate freeloader who seems to be adept at creating discomfort and pushing people's buttons. Tre is crashing with his best friend Gabe and his girlfriend Kakela, who are about to get married. Shortly thereafter, Kakela's friend Nina, fresh off a separation, comes to stay with them, and Nina disrupts the balance by inadvertently unearthing some buried feelings of jealousy that eventually come to the surface. A love triangle, or perhaps more accurately a lust rhombus with glints of highly depressing portrayals of love, is born.
If the film is not necessarily sinister in terms of its characters, it's sinister in terms of the way that it plays with the audience's attention, reeling them in, lingering in their discomfort, and leaving them uneasy yet alert. Co-written by Byler and actress Kimberly-Rose Wolter who plays Kakela, Tre at times feels like an artfully crafted power play, where the characters are questionable and you're not sure who to root for, but there's something mesmerizing when the tension finally explodes. Byler picked up the Jury Prize at the SFIAAFF for this film. --Ada Tseng
Owl and the Sparrow
dir: Stephane Gauger
An owl (a quiet, reserved zookeeper who just lost his fiancée and is about to lose his oldest friend) and a sparrow (a beautiful airline hostess living a life of complacency because she doesn't know what she wants) are two strangers who capture the attention of a young orphan girl who has just run away from home. Neither desiring to be caught by her uncle nor sent to an orphanage, Thuy, played by achingly adorable newcomer Pham Thi Han, takes care of herself by being a flower girl on the streets of Saigon, making her own money to survive. The two adults run into Thuy separately, and they both show her such unique generosity that their interest and concern (something not taken for granted by Thuy) quickly develops into genuine friendships. Sensing that the two adults are alone, the clever young girl recognizes an opportunity, using a few tricks up her sleeve to try and create a pseudo-family for herself.
Director Stephane Gaugher weaves the stories together gracefully, and the performances are all subtle, honest, and emotionally resonant. Shot with a hand-held camera along the busy streets of Saigon, Gauger constantly throws the audience in the middle of the action, whether it's along the city traffic or inside the peaceful zoo, feeding the elephants. Cat Ly glows as Lan, a single, self-sufficient Vietnamese woman with everything at her fingertips, yet stuck in a rut, having not found that meaningful connection. And Pham Thi Han, who impressively carries the film in her first feature role, is sure to melt your heart. After much buzz from the audiences who were predicting the win, Gauger "unanimously" picked up the Best Narrative Feature prize for this film. --Ada Tseng
Tie a Yellow Ribbon
dir: Joy Dietrich
A rough-around-the-edges character piece, Joy Dietrich's Tie a Yellow Ribbon explores rich territory -- adoptees, depression, suicide, family abandonment -- with impressive class and delicacy through her female characters. Kim Jiang plays Jenny Mason, a Korean twenty-something adoptee who still carries around intense hurt and anger from her experiences with her adopted family. Walking around empty and uninterested in connecting with others, Jenny ends up renting a room from Bea (Jane Kim), who embodies the type of sweet, shaky, wide-eyed naïveté that preying men find so endearing in pretty girls who wear their vulnerability on their sleeve.
The film is an interesting portrait of two very different women, both, in their own ways, panicking just below the surface and struggling with the dangerous seesaw of caring too much and not caring at all. Jiang carries the film with a compelling performance throughout while dealing with taboo subjects; Kim is nervously fragile and heartbreaking as the perfect-on-the-outside girl who might fall apart at any second; and the third female character, Sandy, provides some comic relief as a shy little sister who is learning how to speak up for herself and demand respect. Dietrich has constructed a film that is not afraid to leave things murky and barely hopeful; the past keeps haunting, mistakes keep being made, and things that seem simple that may promote growth and healing may or may not work out. --Ada Tseng
Ang Pamana: The Inheritance
dir: Romeo Candido
So, this movie was not very good. But if you're going to see it, I recommend you see it with a packed audience full of excited Filipino teenagers who holler at the screen and shriek at any sign of impending doom -- knowing very well the folklore that the film is inspired by, and therefore, anticipating exactly when the characters will be punished for their consequential actions. Then, it becomes oddly bearable and sometimes fascinating.
The film follows Filipino Canadian brother-sister duo Johnny (Darrel Gamotin) and Anna (Nadine Villasin) who fly back to the Philippines to represent their family after their Lola (Grandmother) Nena dies. Lola used to tell Johnny lots of ghost stories when he was a boy, and this knowledge comes in handy when the cousins inherit a wealthy country estate and things start getting creepy. Sometimes the campiness is genuinely amusing: a scared friend shamelessly abandoning an even-more-scared Johnny to stand up to the Duwende himself. Sometimes it's just confusing: both in humor (I guess super hot girls hitting their baby-faced male cousins is really funny?) and in plot direction. At one point, I was seriously suspecting that cousin Vanessa was in fact, unbeknownst to them all, the Manananggal -- which, to a person familiar with Filipino folklore (which I unfortunately am not) is probably the stupidest prediction ever. Well, you win some, you lose some.
While most of the film relied on overdone tricks (dramatic, foreboding music leading to quick shot of blurry ghost woman), intercut with the "dramatic, foreboding music, oh! but it's just your mentally challenged cousin roaming around in the bushes" fake-outs, the film did boast a crazy, gleefully sadistic scene where a severed upper torso of the Manananggal attempts to suck the bloody fetus out of a pregnant woman with its "elongated proboscis-like tongue." The Tuesday night SFIAAFF audience seemed to enjoy it. --Ada Tseng
dir: Chris Chan Lee
In Between Days
dir: So Yong Kim
Click here for APA's review of Undoing and In Between Days from the 2006 Los Angeles International Film Festival.
SFIAAFF Capsule Reviews: Documentaries, international, and more
Date Posted: 3/30/2007